Congaree turtles

Turtles in the Congaree River. Photo by John Carlos

“SCE&G decided a coffer dam could not be built in the Congaree to allow removal of the coal tar. But the idea that it can’t be done in a shallow river is laughable, an insult to engineers and heavy equipment operators alike.” — City Watch, Oct. 25, 2017

“In a June 22, 2018 letter from DHEC to SCE&G, DHEC cited a recent letter from the Army Corps of Engineers, one in which the Corps ‘did not indicate that a properly designed coffer dam system would be prohibited’ as a possible removal method.” — Free Times, July 6

Well whadda’ya know.

Further, the Corps of Engineers also noted in their letter that they never came to a conclusion that damming the river and removing the tar would be too risky.

You don’t think SCE&G would have tried to hustle us, do you?

Perish the thought. Next thing you know, someone will be blaming their parent company SCANA for that little nuclear plant foul-up in Fairfield County.

Gallows humor aside (with both SCANA and its customers now facing the gallows due to legislative incompetence and corporate malfeasance), I never believed SCE&G’s claims about building a coffer dam around the contaminated site just below the Gervais Street Bridge.

Indeed, as someone who watched a coffer dam being built around the Morris Island Lighthouse at Folly Beach several years ago in order to straighten and strengthen the historic structure, I knew it could be done.

And done in the ocean — with constant waves and wind, sometimes intense on both counts. But smart and skilled engineers and heavy equipment operators did the job, just as I’m sure they can do it in the Congaree.

Removing the coal tar (which SCE&G’s predecessor company allowed to drain into the river from its gas plant a century ago) should be the only solution acceptable to the public.

The idea that we would leave benzene-laced coal tar sitting in the shallow Congaree in the middle of downtown Columbia is beyond belief and beneath contempt.

And a salute to the Congaree Riverkeeper organization for keeping the pressure on SCE&G and the Corps of Engineers with the very real threat of a lawsuit that those entities may very well have lost in court. And they knew it.

Instead, we now have DHEC directing SCE&G to engage in a “renewed effort” to build the coffer dam and remove the coal tar.

Just as it should be done. And should have always been done. And done long before now. So let’s get started and get it done.

As for the lasers … I’m trying to keep an open mind.

Ironically, these are being installed in the same Gervais Street Bridge area as the coal tar — hope laser beams don’t ignite coal tar deposits! Just kidding. As far as I know.

On a more serious note, I share the concerns of those who think the riverfront area should be for kayaks and critters, hikers and bikers, waders and sun bathers … not Las Vegas light shows.

It also strikes me as one of those “look at us” things that city boosters always try to come up with to make a town seem cool, hip etc.

But sometimes they look like they’re trying too hard. As Keith Richards once said, “If you gotta think about being cool, you ain’t cool.”

Personally, I think walking by the river and enjoying the big and beautiful in-town nature it provides is cool. I do it frequently on the Riverwalk, which is just around the corner from my office.

But again, I’m keeping an open mind and look forward to seeing what the laser installation is like. And once we do, we should act accordingly to praise it or raze it.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.